We Impose Our Beliefs On The World Around Us

When it comes to love and romance, not only do we pay selective attention to certain events and actions, but we also impose our beliefs on what we see.

woman seeing what she wants It is impossible to experience a situation "as it is." Rather we experience situations in light of our beliefs about what is happening (see Fiske & Taylor).

Simply put, our beliefs influence what we experience. So, people, who hold different beliefs, experience the same situation differently.

For example, one of our clients “believes” that women everywhere adore him. As such, he turns every friendly interaction with a waitress, a flight attendant, or an administrative assistant into an ego boost (“Did you see that?”).

On the other hand, if you “believe” that individuals working with the public often treat their customers in a friendly manner, then these interactions take on a different meaning altogether.

And remember, not only do we interpret situations in light of our beliefs, but we only give our attention to certain situations from the start. In this case, our client only pays attention to the times when women are friendly with him and he ignores instances where the exact same women are just as friendly to everyone else (see selective attention).

So why are we picking on a client? First, he knows about this example and he finds it amusing. Second, we are picking on him because it is much easier to see how “beliefs” can influence experience when the experience is not your own.

It is very difficult for anyone to separate their own beliefs from their experience. To the person involved, one’s “biases” are their "reality."

Another example helps illustrate this point:

One of our friends had been wanting to buy an expensive leather jacket for years. The day he purchased his new jacket he wore it out to a club. As luck would have it, everyone at the club was looking in his direction. So our friend did what comes naturally; he interpreted the situation in light of his beliefs (“This leather jacket makes me look great – I should have gotten it years ago.”). Unfortunately, our friend failed to notice that the reason everyone was looking in his direction, was not because of his new leather jacket, but because a celebrity was standing behind him.

Or imagine that you are out for dinner with your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, and you notice your partner glancing at someone attractive on the other side of the room? How do you interpret this situation? Do you find it amusing, threatening, harmless, or annoying?

Again, our experience of any event is not influence by “what just happened,” but by our assumptions about what happened.

Our beliefs may be right, or they may be wrong, or they may be a little of both.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction. Other people may lie about what happened, but we also misperceive things as well.

To make things even more complicated, most of the events that we experience on a daily basis are ambiguous – most events are open to more than one interpretation. But, few of us go through life acknowledging this.

Few of us walk around claiming "that was ambiguous, and so was that...” – rather we like to convince ourselves otherwise – “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it...”

Imposing our beliefs on the world takes little energy and effort and it gives us a sense of reassurance. Trying to discover the truth, on the other hand, is difficult, complicated, and confusing. For most of us, it is simply easier to impose our beliefs on events than to explore situations from multiple points of view.

And the idea that “beliefs” influence experience is particularly true when it comes to love and romance.

Our “beliefs about intimacy” greatly influence what we experience in our intimate relationships. Hundreds of studies have shown that individuals will experience the same relational event differently based on the beliefs they hold (see section and examples on attachment styles).

Do you believe that your partner is honest, decent, and caring? Well, that is what you’re most likely see.